But that plan doesn't take. Rex and Steve spend the next few days scrambling to complete their final projects (and stay high), focusing heavily on their magazine start-up. Steve puts together the business plan, which includes several pages of expense and revenue projections, Web and circulation strategies, and demographic information. Rex writes articles about campus protests, police harassment, and how to mentally and physically prepare for revolution.

They both arrive late on the day they're scheduled to present their group assignment to the magazine class. Their group is the only one with less than five students — it's just the two of them. The other students recognize Rex, but they're essentially meeting Steve for the first time. The moment is quiet, awkward, and kind of sweet. Rex looks sheepishly at his classmates and chuckles under his breath. Steve's mouth creases into a bashful smile. Audiences love underdogs and, without saying a word, Steve and Rex fit the bill. There's the palpable anticipation that curiosities are about to be satisfied.

"Our magazine is called Wasted Ink," Steve says. "It's a magazine for homeless, impoverished people by homeless, impoverished people." He explains how the magazine's revenue stream would consist of ad sales to local shelters and soup kitchens like St. Anthony. "I don't think we'll ever turn a profit," he says.

Stephen Morrison
Steve works in a computer lab at S.F. State.
Stephen Morrison
Steve works in a computer lab at S.F. State.


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Wasted Ink is not slick or glossy in any way, but Rex and Steve are the only group to go beyond creating a cover and business plan and produce actual editorial content. "Pretty ghetto is the best way to put it," Rex says, describing the magazine. This gets a laugh from the class, which brings him out of his shell. "It's about how to get by and enjoy your life without participating in the system." The two explain that while it might exist under the radar, the target readership for their magazine is larger than most people think.

When they're done, the class applauds loudly, and Rex and Steve return to their desks, smiling. Steve reaches into his backpack for some tobacco to roll a cigarette for after class. He accidentally pulls out a needle and drops it on the floor in front of the teacher and other students. Several people notice, but no one says anything.

The fog hangs thick over the courtyard during the last week of school, and Rex and Steve each have one more paper to write. They're broke and spend the week finishing schoolwork, trying not to think about dope.

With the big projects behind them, they turn in their last assignments and wait for grades to be posted. Both manage to earn straight Bs for the semester and qualify for financial aid in the fall.

After spending the summer alone at the camp, Steve finally got a call from the city that he was eligible for subsidized housing. He moved into a room in a Tenderloin hotel a few weeks ago. Money was scarce over the summer, and he spent a lot of his time just reading, mostly books on anthropology. He says that in a year he might pursue that as a master's degree. Drugs are still a part of his life, but he goes to weekly counseling and is trying to curb his heroin use with prescribed medication. "I don't really want to be doing what I'm doing, but I don't think it works like that," he says. "I'm trying to do it less each day. I'd like to stop. ... I would."

In the meantime, Steve's anchor is school, which he views as preparation for a life that hasn't yet come into focus: "I'm trying to figure out a way to get by in life. If I wasn't in school, I'd probably kill myself, because shooting heroin is fucking depressing."

Over the summer, Rex went to court for his charge of battering an officer and ended up cutting a deal with the Alameda County District Attorney's office. He pleaded no contest to an infraction of disturbing the peace. If he is arrested for anything during the next year, he faces a $250 fine (he passed on an earlier deal that would have put him in jail if he got busted again). He views the arrangement as little threat and plans to remain homeless this semester.

Sitting inside a Carl's Jr. near Civic Center, finishing an order of chili fries while he waits for his dope connection to call, Rex struggles to reconcile his passion for activism with his need to get high. "I know that in order to accomplish anything and make a difference I'm going to have to stop being a drug fiend, and that's a process," he says. "I want to try to quit. My plan is to cause minimal harm to my life while I'm deciding between getting loaded and abstinence."

Rex is still waiting for his financial aid to come through, and says that last week an old friend ripped off all of his money. Regardless, he's trying to be optimistic about a good semester. "Once I start stacking my chips and lining up my ducks, I won't feel the need to get loaded," he says. "Doing the tree sit and going to school remind me what I really want to do. I want to create a life where I don't feel like doing drugs all the time."

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